Four months on, I'm still not using Office for Mac

Four months on, I'm still not using Office for Mac

Summary: Four months after I swore off Office for Mac in favour of Apache OpenOffice, I'm happy to say that the change has stuck. OpenOffice may not have everything Office power users need, but for the other 99 percent it's capable, reliable, and more compatible with Word than even Apple's Pages.


It's been over four months since I publicly announced my move away from a reliance on Office for Mac, that bland and sort-of-reliable office suite that Microsoft has long run as a hobbyist project for a devoted but marginalised team of Mac developers.

The massive response to that piece suggested to me that I wasn't the only one who had become disenchanted with an office suite with a fluid feature set, outdated interface and whose biggest benefit was that its document compatibility was mostly as good as that of the Windows version.


Word for Mac's compatibility was sure better than Pages, Apple's attempt to make a page-layout program behave like a word processor – and to impose the bloated and unsupported .pages file format on the world. It's a gesture of sheer contempt for reality and it is one of the main reasons I have repeatedly declined to shift my word-heavy working patterns to Pages.

I simply cannot justify having to export a separate .DOC file every time I want to send someone a Word file – which is, I'm sorry to tell you folks in Cupertino, every single freaking day of my life.

While I initially turned to OpenOffice as a freely available alternative when I couldn't locate my Office for Mac install disks, the reasons I've stayed with it revolve around reliability and compatibility.

In the years that I was using Word for Mac, crashes were a monthly occurrence and the very act of cutting and pasting even a simple line of text could at any time send Word into a death spiral.

Given that Microsoft never got around to implementing file-recovery that's anywhere near as good as that found in the Windows version, these inexplicable and repeated crashes were major interruptions to my workflow and resulted in lost work on numerous occasions. When your ability to make a living depends on a reliable word processor, this is understandably problematic.

OpenOffice is now loaded on both my main work iMac and my portable MacBook Pro, using Microsoft Word's .DOC format to ensure broad compatibility no matter what I do with my documents.

OpenOffice runs smoothly, reliably, and consistently. It is quick, robust, and capable of running on a laptop for months at time without corrupting itself or requiring a restart. It handles words, numbers and images well and does everything I need, when I need it to. No fuss, no muss.

Here's the real kicker: Word compatibility in OpenOffice is so good that Apple should be ashamed of itself. On numerous occasions, OpenOffice has loaded complex Word documents with a higher degree of fidelity than Pages: form boxes that come out in strange shapes and disjointed lines in Pages, for example, are correctly and beautifully joined in OpenOffice. Shading works well. There are none of Pages' ubiquitous warnings about certain fonts not being available.

On numerous occasions, OpenOffice has loaded complex Word documents with a higher degree of fidelity than Pages: form boxes that come out in strange shapes and disjointed lines in Pages, for example, are correctly and beautifully joined in OpenOffice.

I've found similar excellence in the spreadsheet and presentation functionality in the office suite, which is snappy and capable for my needs. I will also readily admit that your needs from Excel and PowerPoint may be far more complicated than mine, which rarely extend beyond organising numbers in rows and columns, and totalling them.

Sure, OpenOffice has its problems, but they are generally small and easy to work around. Command-A, for example, does not work in file-save or any other file-selection dialogue. Writer's the default font doesn't display smart quotes correctly and adds trailing and leading space; I've switched to Arial and all is good. The Track Changes interface could be prettier. Fonts in loaded PowerPoint documents sometimes look different than you would expect.

These are small things, but on the whole OpenOffice has been a big step up – for my needs – from could-crash-at-any-second Word for Mac. I have settled into it nicely, and none of the people I've sent OpenOffice-generated .DOC files has complained about having any issues at all. It has become part of the furniture.

That said, just because it works for me doesn't mean it will do the same for you. Power users are going to struggle to transfer their detailed Office workflows to OpenOffice or any other platform. That said, they can't switch those processes to Microsoft's cloud-based Office, Office for iPad, or any other office suite either. Customisation of this type simply isn't readily portable.

Is it ready for large-scale enterprise use? Not necessarily; here, again, the growing ecosystem Microsoft is building around Office is likely to make it more appealing for many; OpenOffice is still heartily a desktop product and doesn't aspire to be anything else.

I obviously cannot speak as to the reliability and relevance of the upcoming update to Office for Mac. However, for now OpenOffice is a surprisingly capable, unobtrusive and likeable office suite that has cured me of any desire to load Office for Mac. Those put off by experiences with previous versions, may well find it's worth another look.

What has been your experience with OpenOffice? Have you switched permanently? Or did you give up on it after having less success than I did?

Topics: Software, Apps, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Open Source, Telework, Presentations


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Libreoffice

    I tried OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Both offer excellent alternatives for the 99%. As a bonus, neither has issues with vendor lock-in or never-ending subscriptions just to keep opening your documents. What's not to like?
    • That they suck?

      • OpenOffice

        Is just a pale copy of MS office. Why on earth would someone want to use to lesser thing? Ms office doesn't cost much, it is extremely well supported and documented, constantly improved, capable of connecting to various data source, easy to use. It's a no brainer and the best productivity suite available by distance as long as the moon.
        • 6-figures

          Unless you're distorting a 1-year subscription cost with the cost of a stand-alone retail product, a current version MS Office for Windows isn't cheap. You don't start getting to affordable unless you go with a Mac version $250-ish or until you go with a previous version for Windows.

          Assuming you keep your software up to date and don't abuse the EULA (can't legitimately use home and student versions for business use), MS Office has never been referred to as cheap unless the person has an income above average and has lost touch with reality or truly relies on official MS Office to make their money. The home & student version for Mac does get down to about $150-ish. Not so lucky for Windows versions though.

          No harm, no foul, if you really -NEED- MS Office, but rarely would the general public see it as cheap, especially if they fund it out of their own pockets.
          • What distortion?

            If the single stand alone copy is more than a sub for XX number of devices, then don't buy the single copy. I have a sub and put Office on 2 desktop PC's, 1 Macbook, 1 android phone and it's $99 a year (and my devices aren't even capped out yet). That's not a "distortion", it's reality. And to smear some icing on the cake... 60 minutes of Skype time, and more One drive space. The cherry on top... ALL updates AND upgrades are INCLUDED as long as the sub is active.

            Now that's my kind of distortion... and I hope that David is comfortable not working with files that numbers of OFFICE users also share/work on. And when he says 99% fine opening "complex" docs, I'm calling BS. I try it every time I see a "blogger" make that statement, and all it proves to me is that there are too many "bloggers" using their space to support open source, at any cost. Open Office and Libre are good, but they do not support anywhere near what he claims. If he uses it to write his blogs prior to posting, well, I can do that with Wordpad. It's free too, but I don't use it for anything serious.
    • @Vinster1

      We keep hearing that OpenOffice and/or LibreOffice will not work for anyone.
      • That is just the standard FUD

        It isn't true.
      • I've feel very nervous

        Everytime I save as .doc in Libre/Openoffice and send it off.
        If I don't have MS Office to preview it, I am never confident whether the recipent is getting Word salad or Excel mash.
        I try to save as PDF and send it if they don't need .doc
        Apart from that, sometimes I prefer NOT using MS Office, but if my wallet depended on it, I'll use MS Office everytime.
  • Four months on, I'm still not using Office for Mac

    Great to hear OpenOffice works for you.
    • Wordpad would probably be sufficient for 99%

      Wordpad is all the wordprocessor most people need 99% of the time...really.
      • WordPad?

        Haven't had WordPad successfully open any Word documents since around 2001-2003. Granted that's based on various XP and Vista machines. I've been neutering WordPad from my base images ever since.
  • Problem on Mac

    Some how I can't get over not having out of the box individual launchers for the portions of Open/Libre Office for Mac. Windows has separate launchers for the apps, so does linux.
    • Separate but not separate

      Yes, Win / Linux have separate launchers, but at least with Windows and Mac, you're still opening a huge back end, instead of separately compiled apps. I think that is my primary limitation to pushing everyone to open Office or Libre Office.
  • No MS Office for Linux

    I use LibreOffice as my default office suite. It is the normal default for most Linux distros. I have not noticed any major problems opening or creating MS format files. Though, I should note that my documents are relatively simple.
  • Article: "Is it ready for large-scale enterprise use?"

    Well, remember that IBM is the largest corporate contributor to the Apache OpenOffice Project. IBM somewhat recently announced enterprise support for Apache OpenOffice:

    In addition, IBM offers a cloud office suite known as IBM SmartCloud™Docs that is compatible with MS Office and ODF file formats as well as Apache OpenOffice:

    The Apache 2.0 license for OpenOffice now has a bit more clarity.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Why not LibreOffice?

    I changed from OpenOffice to LibreOffice when the 4.2 updated was announced, to see if it was better. It is, in just about every way, while still almost completely familiar. The few incompatibility problems OpenOffice had with MS office disappeared pretty much completely.
    Dear Holy Stasis
    • libreoffice is getting much, much better

      but unless you're using odf it's still a bit wonky on formatting. I've used it before and saved a file as a docx, and it then couldn't open the same file it created properly. it's happened several times now.
      • Why I stopped using it!

        Creating unopenable-in0Libre/OpenOffice files means editing a document you made requires MS Office... and the entire point of moving to OO was to AVOID needing Microsoft products!
        luke mayson
    • My POV

      I like better than LibreOffice. I don't care about licensing difference as I plan to adhere to all licenses any way. Both applications don't feel Mac-like, but OOo feels a little bit more. Maybe it's the persuasive power of a better icon.

      Any way, in reference to Mr. Braue's question, I've had and LibreOffice on my Macs since I could, though I used a Cocoa-ed wrap application for OOo (and, I regret to say, it's name escapes me) back in those days when was java-heavy and used Ctrl instead of Cmd. Extra special plus, last decade I was supporting users who had OS X, Linux, and Windows and solved a problem of consistency across platforms.

      (This question becomes less snarky in these days of the new Microsoft, but I asked back then, if Office is the superior work suite, why not sell it for Linux users. Yes, yes, and yes, people do pay for quality products. Over the years, I've bought Excel and Access, even though I'm well versed in Calc and familiar with Base.)
      • Function or Aesthetics?

        In the past year, I think Libre Office has really cleaned up well. Visually, they're more unified than Open Office. Libre Office also puts out bug fixes and new functionality more rapidly than Open Office. Open Office is however, the original core and generally releases with a slightly higher stability rating.